Floating tanks offer a bizarre form of spa therapy
The pod is white and sleek, like an AirPod sized for King Kong, and the water inside, rich with over 1,000 pounds of Epsom salt. Float Seattle promises “relaxation, healing, personal growth” in exchange for a full hour inside the orb, 60 long minutes without sound or surface sensation.
Does it work? At the end of the session at the Greenwood location of this local chain, my answer is final…maybe.
Float Seattle was launched in 2012, but flotation therapy dates back to the mid-20th century, when a neurophysiology researcher named John Lilly postulated that suspending the body in supersaturated salt water could reveal brain activity. without external stimuli. (Lilly Guardian The obituary calls him “a veteran of thousands of drug-induced near-death experiences,” but the popularity of his flotation system proved far safer than his LSD experimentation.) Today, Seattle has dedicated outposts like Float Seattle — where first-timers pay $45 — and Urban Float, as well as individual floating cabins at massage studios and spas.
Each session begins with a full shower and the insertion of earplugs. Then it’s in the pod, a $32,500 piece of hardware complete with optional starry skies and a filtration system to purify water four times between users. With headroom, claustrophobia isn’t inevitable, though larger, closet-sized versions at Seattle Float’s South Lake Union and Greenlake outposts offer even more headroom. maneuver.
The floats tilt in just 10 inches of water, buoyancy thanks to the massive amount of dissolved magnesium sulfate. “More salt than the Dead Sea,” says Dean Parris, owner and facilities and operations manager of Float Seattle. Adrift in my basket, each jolt causes a drift towards the sides of the tub; prone to fidgeting, I feel like a dancing manatee in a paddling pool. Even in the dark, true sensory deprivation remains elusive.
“Everyone’s time is different,” the Float Seattle staffer explains during orientation. She also notes that it usually takes about three sessions to get used to, hence the studio’s monthly subscriptions. But even without reaching a meditative state, a float session provides an unprecedented experience: boredom. Not the boredom that comes from doomscrolling on a phone or flipping through Netflix offerings, but actual downtime devoid of tasks, entertainment, or even input on how long it will last.
Float Seattle also offers infrared saunas, which use light rather than hot stones, a kind of floating pregame. “It stimulates you on a cellular level, so you’re warming up from the inside out and getting very hot very quickly,” says Parris. “It excites the water molecules in your cells.” It feels like intentionally becoming a human Hot Pocket, but the experience itself differs little from an old-fashioned sauna: heat, sweat, loose limbs.
Paired together, a sauna and float session is undeniably relaxing, a forced unplugging ritual. Science backs up all the claims of “cure”; a German trial published in 2021 showed that flotation-REST (restricted environmental stimulation therapy) had short-term effects on chronic pain compared to a placebo group that rested regularly.
That “personal development” advertised on the door? Impossible to measure and hard to disprove, although during my own floating hour I mentally set a work assignment and planned an upcoming beach vacation. I came out with a reset that felt like the afterglow of a good massage. After all, there are worse things than spending an hour like a listless manatee.